God’s Amazing Love

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:11-13

A near and dear friend recently shared her conviction that she is completely unforgivable. Before I could utter a word, she enumerated her alleged evil-doing and the resulting sorrow that filled her life as a result. My friend ended this monologue with a deluge of tears. I waited some time for her sobs to fade and for her tears to run out. When she had no energy left with which to fight off my consolation, I told her that I was glad to be with her and that I loved her. After sitting quietly for a few minutes, I asked if she felt a little better. She smiled and admitted, “I feel a lot better. Thank you so much!”

I was extremely grateful that my friend gave me that opening. “You know,” I said, “I would never hold anything against you. You lived through some difficult times and I understand what drove you to those things. You know what else? My opinion doesn’t matter. God’s does. If little ol’ me can be here for you and forgive you and love you, just think how much more God does all of those things for you. God never ever gives up on you!”

I think my friend believed me because I left her smiling. When she called to thank me later that day, I could hear that smile in her voice.

Thank you, Loving and Merciful God, for loving each one of us so completely.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Who I Am…

“But you -who do you say that I am?” he asked them.
Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.”

Luke 9:20

I wear many hats in my life. These include daughter, sister, cousin, student, friend, adversary, teen, aunt, teacher, wife, in-law, mom, mother-in-law, colleague, author, grandma, administrator, volunteer, retiree, encourager, listener, annoying one. The list goes on and on, as it does for us all. Some who know me might urge me to add a few more complimentary titles. Others might encourage me to add a role or an adjective of which I am not particularly proud. I am painfully honest when I also say that, in spite of this list, I sometimes don’t know who I am at all.

It is during life’s most confusing and most difficult times that I jump at the chance to answer the question Jesus posed to his followers so long ago: “Who do you say that I am?” My answer has made all of the difference in the world to me. You see, Jesus’ words convinced me of God’s love for me. Jesus’ example taught me to love my enemies as well as my friends. Jesus’ parables convinced me that I can never do anything which God will not forgive. Jesus is the one who assured me that, miserable as I can be at times, he would lay down his life for me alone. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one through whom I have learned to live as best I can, not in spite of, but because of who I am.

Generous God, you have gifted me with Jesus -his words, his works, his life and his love. Thank you for offering us all this amazing glimpse of who you are and who we are meant to be.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Well-Placed Faith

When our phone rang at 8:00 A.M., I knew my husband’s aunt had dialed. Aunt Yola is an early riser who makes her calls as soon as she is certain the recipients are up. Because Mike continues to recover from foot surgery, I guessed that Aunt Yola called to check on his progress. My suspicions were confirmed as soon as I heard, “Hi Aunt Yola! How are you?” Before beginning this writing, I listened to Mike’s end of the conversation. Mike has always been a special nephew to Aunt Yola and I imagined her face filled with concern as Mike chronicled his ordeal. Before returning to my writing, I allowed myself a stroll down Memory Lane…

Phone calls between Mike and Aunt Yola have been commonplace over the years. Early on, Aunt Yola’s and Uncle Franks’ daughter answered the telephone for her parents. Mary habitually sped past them in anticipation of the opportunity to announce a caller. Mary was a master of voice recognition and she correctly identified anyone she had heard over the phone at least once. After offering her greeting, Mary called, “It’s Aunt Jennie!” or “It’s Michael!” or “It’s Mary Ellen!” How did she do it?

When Mike and I were engaged, I asked if Mary could join my niece as a flower girl for our wedding. Mary exuded life and she lifted the spirits of everyone in her proximity. She would certainly have stolen the show that day, but who would have minded? Unfortunately, a full day of celebration would have been too much for her. Mary had endured poor health since birth. She had a weak heart and many other symptoms which accompanied Down’s Syndrome half a century ago. Mary’s doctor and the rest of us agreed that it was her parents’ tireless and loving care that kept Mary with us for so long. As it happened, Mary attended our wedding and then spent the rest of the day with her aunt. She left her mark on the ceremony with her sweet announcement, “Here comes Mary Ellen!” as my dad escorted me down the aisle.

Over the years, Mary brightened our family gatherings and frightened us a few times with threatening illnesses. When a call eventually announced Mary’s recovery, a collective sigh rose from near and far. As different as their lives had been from the expected, Aunt Yola and Uncle Frank thanked God with all of their hearts every time their little girl recovered. Mary would be a difficult little lady to live without. She read story books and enjoyed math. Mary’s belief in Santa and her devotion to Jesus remained for her entire life. Mary’s innocence brought uncommon peace to their home. As Mary’s parents aged, their forever little girl kept them young at heart.

Mary was twenty-two when serious illness threatened once again. Uncle Frank and Aunt Yola alerted all concerned that a persistent cold had developed into something much worse. They knew Mary well and noticed even the smallest changes in her energy level. Mary had been growing weaker for some time. In the hospital, with those she loved at her bedside, Mary drifted in and out of a peaceful sleep. When she woke for the last time, Mary told her parents that she was going to see Jesus “pretty soon.” And that she did. Afterward, Aunt Yola and Uncle Frank, shed many a tear. Still, when we went to their home to sit with them, all they could talk about was Mary’s joy over being with Jesus and the things Mary knew now that she had never known before. All they could talk about was how special Mary was and how it was Jesus himself who greeted their Little Mary with open arms.

I share Mary’s story with you because the miracle which was Mary’s life reflects the spirit of Jesus’ miracles in Mark’s gospel (Mark 5:21-43). With absolute faith, a temple official went to Jesus to seek his daughter’s cure. Though others discouraged Jairus, he persisted in seeking Jesus’ help. With absolute faith, Jairus lead Jesus to his little girl. You know, it was with absolute faith that Aunt Yola and Uncle Frank brought Jesus to their little girl as well. When it mattered most, Jairus left his daughter in Jesus’ care. When it mattered most, Uncle Frank and Aunt Yola did the same.

Though the outcomes for these two daughters seem very different to us, they ended precisely the same. When Jairus’ daughter and Mary took Jesus’ hand, he led each of them to new life. Jairus’ daughter shared that life with her father for a time. Mary shared that life with Jesus. In both cases, the outcome was the best it could be, and so it will be for you and me.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Simply Love

They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold;
Sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.

Psalm 19:11

While my granddaughters were here for an overnight stay, I stubbed my toe. As you likely suspect, the resultant pain was excruciating. I broke another toe a few years earlier as a result of similar clumsiness, so I feared the worst. Before I recovered from this present-day incident, my youngest granddaughter came bouncing into tho room. When she saw the look on my face, she asked, “Are you okay, Grandma?” Though I quickly wiped away a telltale tear and smiled my best, Claire knew that all was not well. “Oh, I just bumped my toe,” I said. With that, Claire ran to join her sisters in play. “Grandma hurt herself, so we have to be quiet,” Claire ordered.

Though my older granddaughters prefer to be in charge, they listened. They were especially quiet and extremely cooperative. When I joined them a few minutes later, they did everything in their power to lighten my mood. I admit that I was quite touched but the efforts of these three little girls.

My husband and I did our best to create a loving and compassionate home for our sons. Apparently, we succeeded at some level as illustrated by in granddaughters’ merciful management of my misery. God has worked to make this world of ours a loving and compassionate place as well. The best way to show our appreciation is to respond to one another in kind.

Generous God, thank you for opening our hearts to your love. Remind us often that your most pressing request is that we love each other as you do.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Family

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd guards his flock.

Jeremiah 31:10-11

A few weeks ago, a headline drew my attention to Pope Francis. He stole my heart when he appeared on the balcony over St. Peter’s Square just after his election. Rather than donning the ornate cape normally placed over the shoulders of a new pontiff, he chose to greet God’s people without it. This pope intended to lead God’s people as one of God’s people.

Throughout his relatively short tenure, Francis has stunned some while touching the hearts of others with his approachable demeanor and his openness to reform in the church. Francis seems keenly aware of Jesus’ propensity to embrace outcasts. This pope is also keenly aware of Jesus’ generous and indiscriminate rendering of healing and mercy upon all who require them.

If you have a family, you understand how difficult it can be to “fix” things which have gone awry over the years. Sometimes, delicate urging is all that is needed. Sometimes, strong and deliberate effort is required. In this family which I call “church”, it seems that both lie ahead for Francis. Both lie ahead for you and me as well. While Francis sorts out what is and isn’t essential from his perspective, you and I must do the same. Regardless of our religious affiliations or lack thereof, we all have relationships with God. It is up to us nurture these relationships by treating one another with love, just as God does.

Loving God, we try to do our best when it comes to our relationships with you. Help us to make this evident in our acceptance and our love of one another.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Live With Joy

“The Lord looked down from his holy height,
from heaven he beheld the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die.”

Psalm 102:20-21

A friend recently shared that she hopes to change careers in order to move on to something which will bring her joy. She wrestles with this notion because it seems selfish to her to want to do something that makes her happy. Though this new opportunity will allow her to serve others in a truly significant way, my friend struggles.

I find that I relate far too well to this dilemma. I share the notion that we are meant to serve others in this life regardless of how happy or unhappy it makes us. Like my friend, I fail to fully appreciate God’s generous gift of free will and God’s absolute faith in our choices. Indeed, it is because of these things that God sends each of us out on our own.

When we spoke, I encouraged my friend to heed her heart’s longing. The happiest people I know do the things which bring them joy. In the process, they also bring joy to those around them. As I spoke to my friend, I listened carefully to what I said. Apparently, it is time for me to heed my heart’s longing as well.

Loving God, you know the longings of our hearts long before we can speak them. Help us to love ourselves as you love us. Give us the courage to hear our deepest cries for joy and to fulfill them as only we can.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved